How to stay within budget in the expensive D.C. rental market

May 20

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Nancy Simmons Starrs is president and founder of Apartment Detectives, a D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia apartment search service. She writes an occasional column on rental issues.

The current Washington rental market is expensive and prices are higher now that it’s spring, the time of year when the market begins to heat up. The rents will only increase as we move closer toward the high-demand summer season.

If you are looking to move, you will want to make a list of priorities so that you can stay within your budget. You will want to understand the factors that will impact the rent prices.

Here are some things to consider:

• Location: Do you want to live in the center of the city? If the answer is yes, then you will want to consider items you might be flexible on for a better price in the location you desire. You will want to think about smaller square footage, an older property that has not been renovated and giving up amenities that are in higher-priced buildings.

Can you live without a dishwasher and a gym? Can you consider laundry in the building rather than washer and dryer in the unit? You do have to consider if you have furniture that needs a larger space. Would you have to store the furniture or sell it? If you have to store it, you ought to factor storage unit costs into your budget.

If amenities, larger square footage, a gym, a concierge, a swimming pool and newer or renovated options are higher on your list of priorities, you will need to consider living farther away from the center of the city or in Virginia or Maryland. If you need a parking space, it will cost less farther away from the center of the city. Downtown garage parking averages $200 to $250 monthly. Living farther away from the center of the city can save you about $100 monthly on average.

If you can live with laundry in the building over washer and dryer in the unit, this can save you on utilities. Many properties that have laundry in the building, instead of washer and dryer in the unit, may include some of your utilities and sometimes all utilities. If you can save yourself $25 to $150 monthly, that adds up over time.

• Commuting: How you commute to work and what it costs you each day is another factor to take into consideration. If moving 10 to 12 Metro stops away from work or farther driving distance from work saves you $100 in rent, you might want to look at the increase of cost in your commuting expenses to make sure that savings in rent makes sense. If your employer covers your Metro fare, this may not be a factor.

If you don’t need the Metro to commute to work and you don’t take it on a regular basis, living farther from the Metro can save you money in rent. In most cases, you can still take a bus to the Metro for occasional use. You can still commute to work via bus to Metro or just Metro bus. The prices of rental properties go down typically the farther away you are from the Metro.

• Lifestyle: Some choices may not make sense for you personally. If giving up a dishwasher means you will be spending more money eating out because you cannot face the dishes, that clearly won’t work. If giving up a washer and dryer in the unit means that you will be paying the dry cleaner to do your laundry, that won’t make sense.

I have a friend who felt that a bonus of living in New York was a higher salary. But then he realized that he was spending much of that salary dining out because his apartment and kitchen were so small he just needed to get out in the evening. He did so too often to save money from the larger salary.

I have some friends who have realized that belonging to a gym is a better choice for them. They tried buying home gym equipment to replace the gym membership to save money. The home gym equipment, unfortunately, just became very expensive clothes drying racks.

Your selection of a rental home must be based on you and your lifestyle.

Read Nancy Simmons Starrs’s previous columns:

Tips on finding a pet-friendly rental

How to land a great rental in the competitive D.C. market

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